Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Walking Tall, Watching All

Friends, I'm having technical problems with email delivery of posts. Apologies if you get this more than once. 

"Walking, watching. Walking, watching.
Walking, watching. Walking tall.
Walking, watching. Walking, watching.
Walking, watching. Watching all."

     The day was radiant--one of those treasured fall gifts of golden light and blazing hues. Perfect for an autumn hike up the familiar slopes of my favorite local hill. But now, the trail seemed not so familiar.  Leaves dappled the path, obscuring underlying tree roots and stones.

     Brilliant reds and yellows on the distant slopes teased my gaze away from the trail, but not for long. The hiking fall in June that left me with a broken elbow also left acute awareness of the hazards of inattention. I anchored my focus with a mental chant: "I am walking. I am watching. I am walking. I am watching." You may recognize it as a four-syllable, four-step rhythm. That basic cadence offers a great foundation for steadying mind, breath, and pace. 

     As I made my way up the slope, the words fell into a simpler, straight-forward pattern: "Walking, watching. Walking, watching. Walking, watching. Walking Tall. Walking, watching, Walking, watching. Walking, watching. Watching All." Over and over the phrases played through my head, creating a kind of melody that echoed the rhythm of my steps.

     "Walking Tall" emerged as a mindfulness affirmation for me in response to a recent Wall Street Journal article about research on fall prevention. "From Athletes to the Elderly: The Science of Trips and Falls," identified poor posture, not equilibrium, as a primary contributor to many falls. The forward lean we often associate with aging is just as likely to show up for walkers who let their gaze drop down to their feet, or find shoulders hunching forward on an uphill slog.  That lean makes it more difficult to regain balance if one slips or trips, researchers observed. Upright posture aids not only breathing but also stability.

     "Watching All" is a salute to the active mindfulness approach advocated by Harvard research psychologist Ellen Langer. (You can scroll back a couple of posts to "Grounded in Awareness" for more on Langer's research.)

     "Walking tall" and "watching all" are mental prods--reminders to myself to stay present, aware of surroundings and my body as I walk. Without these reminders, it takes no time at all for my thoughts to travel far and wide, leaving me mindless on the trail. Even on a demanding path like this leaf spattered hiking route my mind takes flight frequently. A bounding mind is an on-going, human condition all of us recognize. 

     The challenge of mindfulness comes with noticing the mental detours and side-trails on every path. "Watching All" means keeping an eye on self talk as well as on external conditions. There are times and trails that permit a bit of mental meandering, or the spaciousness of an empty head. A route laced with roots and littered with leaves is not one of them. 

Read more about all prevention research in the full WSJ article.  Further explore self-talk as a tool of stress release and mindfulness in The Spirited Walker, Ch 3, "Words for Walkers."

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